Fort Battleford was the sixth Northwest Mounted Police
fort to be established in the Northwest Territories of Canada, and played a central role in the events of the Northwest Rebellion / Resistance
. It was there that Poundmaker
was arrested, and that 6 Cree and 2 Stoney were hanged for their participation in the Frog Lake massacre and other killings.
Fort Battleford is located at the centre of the junction of the North Saskatchewan
and the Battle rivers. This site offered access to fresh water, as it was many years before an on-site well was made available; it also offered an alterative means of transportation to the Red River Cart
. As the site was also on a plateau, the fort was easily defensible, and offered clear lines of sight for the surrounding area and to Government Ridge - thus providing warning against possible attacks.
The fact that Battleford was then the newly designated capital of the Northwest Territories
also played a substantial role in the decision to locate the fort there. The government's belief was that the presence of the NWMP
would act as a civilizing influence on the First Nations
people in the area, and help them to transition from their nomadic lifestyle to a more stationary one, modelled on European
societies. They also hoped that the force would assist settlers in their homesteading
efforts, and that their presence in the area would encourage the people of the area to respect the laws and rules of the government.
The difficulties that had plagued Native American-Government relations in the United States, along with the high Aboriginal population in the Battleford area, further prompted the federal government to establish a strong NWMP presence. Both the Canadian government and the First Nations people were quite aware of what had transpired south of the "Medicine Line
" and sought to follow a different path. Unfortunately, the fear of a widespread rebellion involving both First Nations peoples and Riel
followers led to a certain degree of paranoia in 1885, after Poundmaker - a well-known Cree chief - made camp at Cut Knife Hill
, intending to petition the provincial governor to provide them with more rations, as starvation had become a major problem. Not a few other Cree bands had joined him there, further flaming the fear of the settlers in the town who fled for the perceived safety of the Fort - laughable, since only a handful of the NWMP detatchment was still at the fort, and the stockade was made of poplar trunks, with gaps easily large enough for bullets to pass through.
The original CN train route was also to pass through Battleford, along the Qu'Appelle
route, but this was overruled in favour of a more southerly route - which resulted, later, in the moving of the capital of the Northwest Territories from Battleford to Regina, then known as Pile O' Bones (and also the reason why Regina is the only provincial capital not built on a major waterway).
Fort Battleford is currently a national historic site administered by Parks Canada
An additional sidenote: Government House, the first government building of the Northwest Territories - on the ridge just across from Fort Battleford - burned down in 2003. A wing of the new Visitor Reception Centre at Fort Battleford is dedicated to it; the old site of Government House is planned to be converted into a memorial garden.
(Note: I also wrote the Wikipedia article; I worked there for the summer and doubt anyone else employed by Parks Canada at that site really cares about E2. Or Wikipedia.)